Here in the UK, an experienced driver will tell you that we’re taught how to pass a driving test (note: not how to drive), and recent legislation means that the test will also include other elements such as operating a satnav or being able to use the windscreen wipers properly (yes, really).
But perhaps one of the skills missing that should be taught is what to do when you encounter an animal on the road. Admittedly, you’re unlikely to encounter an elephant in the UK, but there are plenty of other animals that will (quite literally) have a big impact on your car should you hit one at speed.
Know the legals
Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in the situation of hitting an animal, but if you do, you should understand that there are legal implications for certain animals (never mind moral implications).
If you hit any of the following, then you MUST report the accident to the police:
Cattle / Cows
Donkeys or Mules
Of course, it’s worth saying that should you hit any other animals, especially a domestic pet, then reporting it would be the right thing to do where it’s reasonably practicable. Even if you don’t hit an animal, but you see one that is in distress or in an unnatural environment, you should make that call. We’ve heard of a number of reports where horses have broken free from their paddock and have been running alongside a motorway.
The main thing to remember is that if in the process of trying to avoid an animal or stopping to rescue an animal, you cause an accident, there’s a good chance that you’ll be liable for prosecution. There are no such things as RTA’s (Road Traffic Accidents) anymore, someone is always liable.
Keep calm and slow down
Whether wild or domesticated, animals have a tendency to be nervous around traffic, which is quite understandable. There have been numerous campaigns to educate drivers that may encounter a horse, either being ridden or walked, but the lessons are applicable to pretty much any animal.
First and foremost, you should slow down, try to avoid startling the animal and be prepared to take action should you need to. As you approach, a ‘wide & slow’ attitude is better for all concerned, don’t be tempted to try and get past at any cost, especially if there’s oncoming traffic - not only will you upset the horse, but the rider will be quite nippy also. You could even face a charge of dangerous driving.
Expect the unexpected
Despite not really having any exotic animals that are native to the UK, occasionally you may find yourself face-to-face (bumper-to-tail?) with something out of the ordinary. Reports have been made that include giraffes, geese, llamas, monkeys and even ‘big cats’ (like pumas, lions and the like, not overweight moggies).
Whilst there are no official rules and regulations, the best advice we can give to improve your driving skills is to treat them as you would a horse. Not only will this help to reduce any startled or sudden movements, but should the worst happen, you’ll be going slow enough to minimise the damage (both to the animal and your car).
Make sure protection and safety come first
You should also remember that some animals are protected; all wild swans belong to the crown, coming across one at the roadside could potentially be a grey area if you decide to move it, although of course it could be argued that it was a hazard.
Equally, badgers are a specially protected species, and getting caught with one in your possession (dead or alive) will see you in hot water – if you must take action, we’d advise that you call the police and try and warn other road users of the potential risk. Don’t be tempted to put it in your car to move it.
Remember that in the event of the police having to attend any incident involving animals, their priorities generally lean toward road/motorist safety, not animal welfare, although of course they always try to act in the best interest of the animal where possible.
The best way of improving safety on the road is to be vigilant and to use common sense. Animals can be unpredictable and wild – that’s their nature.
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